Priyanka Chopra, Johanna Braddy

Ideally, a layered television mystery should get more intriguing as it goes along, but Quantico only seems to get more exhausting. Given the insane amount of plot elements the show is currently juggling, one would think “Cover” would be the episode in which the writers make some effort to scale back the size of their counter-terrorism circus. But true to form, they pile reveals on top of reveals and put too many plots into play for any one of them to feel especially consequential. Many contemporary dramas move too fast, but Quantico’s time-jumping structure allows its writers very precise control of the pace. It’s not a matter of telling the story too quickly, it’s a matter of telling so much story it seems impossible to burn through it all at any pace.

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Taking inventory of all the elements to this story is a major undertaking, even if the summary is limited to Alex. To review: Trainee Alex gets the FBI’s file on her father, which must be some attempt to foreshadow Liam and Alex’s forthcoming romantic confusion because it’s weirdly trustworthy to hand a trainee a complete agency file no matter who the file is about. Present-day Alex is still on the run, and her mother, Sita, is dragged into the investigation as Liam tries to gin up a theory for why Alex would execute such an attack. Liam and Sita are already familiar, as Liam and Michael, Alex’s father, have a shady history together at the agency, which goes towards an explanation for why he has Ryan keeping tabs on her movements. Clayton, the director of the bureau, pressures Liam to come up with way to boil the attack down to a tidy narrative, which is pretty hilarious considering how incredibly muddled and overbusy the show is. Clearly someone pulling the strings at Quantico understands the importance of presenting a clear, easy-to-follow narrative, but has no interest in presenting one.

But Quantico never stops being sort of interesting, even though it’s a sort of interesting disaster. It was only a matter of time before one of Alex’s Quantico classmates would pop up in the present day, and Simon Asher, probably-not-gay tech whiz is the first to pop up in the wake of the attack. Alex believes Simon has taken a cushy job with a tech startup, having been drummed out of the bureau after being somehow exposed. Simon’s a less-than-ideal ally, but according to Ryan, he is the only person Alex can trust to help her. He lends her his expertise and database access to determine the potential source and significance of the bits of evidence Alex found at her apartment. The breadcrumbs dropped about the undignified end of Simon’s career already feels excessive, but before that can even set it, a secret call from Clayton reveals Simon is still part of the agency and is building a bond of trust with Alex for some possibly noble, possibly nefarious purpose.

The latest Simon reveal is a perfect encapsulation of why Quantico is already risking the audience’s investment. No one ever tried to claim the show is a measured, grown-up thriller, but at this point, it feels completely untethered to the world it’s depicting. At this point, damn near half of Alex’s class is working or has worked as a double agent for a highly-placed officer within the bureau. Normally the question would be can the show make sense of all these overlapping, tangled up plots, but the question with Quantico is more like, even if it does make sense of all this story, will I care by the end of the explanation? Will the many plots still feel like good uses of time and energy, or will half of these narrative paths lead to dead ends? Because of the theoretically closed-ended season, these aren’t stories being explored in order to have material for years and years to come. It seems as though all of this is supposed to be brought to some kind of satisfying place this season, and that just seems humanly impossible.

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As a counter-terrorism drama, Quantico makes almost no sense, seeing as how it depicts FBI training as an interminable physical conditioning drill occasionally interrupted by cynical social experiments. The experiment of the week is Miranda’s attempt to sow discord among the NATs by having them conduct psychological profiles of one another before posting all of their meanest observations for all to see. The hostility brewing between the trainees is supposed to make it easier for Miranda to turn them against each other with the declaration that she’s cutting three of them through a secret ballot. If they refuse, she‘ll select 10 of them to go home instead. Simon is the only one to cooperate with Miranda’s cruel experiment, and he’s rewarded with a formal reprimand. But don’t worry about Simon, he lands on his feet between the swanky, tech-money pad he’s living in and the fact that he still has his job at the FBI and a covert alliance with the agency’s director.

Grey’s Anatomy, the show Quantico is most closely modeled after, excels at getting the emotional beats correctly even if every other aspect of the story isn’t where it needs to be. Quantico isn’t even doing that part right. The sibling conflict between Nimah and Raina is mildly involving, but considering how little sense that plot makes, there’s only so involved the audience can get. But nothing felt important about the resentment the NATs developed after the psychological profiles. Maybe it is important, but when there’s so much happening, such a determination is really tough to make.

Stray observations:

  • I hate to say this, but Priyanka Chopra isn’t powerful enough to overcome the show’s painfully bad dialogue. I’d like to think it’s the dialogue anyway, but I just didn’t like most of Chopra’s performance in this episode.
  • Miranda’s son, the one she turned in, is about to be paroled. Phew, it’s about time something happened on this show.
  • The twins have split up for now, but maybe they’ll be triplets by next week.
  • Nathalie is being blocked from communicating with her child, so that’s why she’s mean or something.

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